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The qualifying round of the 2nd edition of the Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge was held in Bleiswijk on Thursday 12 September. The Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge is a competition is organised by Wageningen University (WUR). Over a period of six months, the teams compete with each other to produce the maximum harvest with the minimum energy consumption.

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Takeover strengthens market position within the sector and underlines focus on innovation

The executive boards of Van der Hoeven Horticultural Projects and Patron/Enthoven Techniek have agreed that as of today Patron/Enthoven will become a division of Van der Hoeven. Last Friday, Peter Spaans and Martin Steentjes from Van der Hoeven and Ronald Begelinger from Patron/Enthoven informed the employees of both companies about the takeover.

The takeover of Patron/Enthoven meets the growth ambition of Van der Hoeven and the broadening of the services package will further strengthen the position of Van der Hoeven in the market. As neighbours in Den Hoorn and doing complementary businesses in the sector both Van der Hoeven and Patron/Enthoven have a long history of intensive and successful collaboration on horticultural projects throughout the entire world. By combining their strengths, this collaboration will be intensified even further and the total organisation will be taken to a higher level. This will then enable them to serve the international market even better with innovative turn-key horticultural projects.

Peter Spaans, Managing Director of Van der Hoeven Horticultural Projects:
“The growing market for high-tech turn-key total solutions calls for a greater level of integration between all the systems and installations. Our innovative projects will benefit the most from this bundling of forces.”

In conversation with Taizo Sano 
The man behind the biggest horticulture project in Japan

In Kasoaka, Japan, construction of the horticultural project measuring 128,269 m2 is well underway. The complex comprises three greenhouses where lettuce, tomatoes and red peppers will be grown. Time for an interview with Sano-San, an old acquaintance of Van der Hoeven and one of the founders of the largest horticultural project in Japan.

1. Can you tell us something about your career?

After graduating from the Faculty of Agriculture, Kyoto Prefectural University, I started my career at Kagome Co., Ltd., the largest producer of tomato based products in Japan. After becoming the President of Kagome USA in 1998, I managed Kagome’s fresh tomato business at large-scale greenhouses, and I became a managing executive officer in 2006. After retiring from Kagome in 2016, I founded SARA Inc.
 
2. What is the mission of your company SARA?
At SARA — which stands for Smart Agribusiness Research & Alliance — we want everyone to enjoy fresh, tasty, healthy, and safe grown vegetables in Japan year-round. To achieve this goal, we are combining cutting-edge horticultural technology with state-of-the-art renewable energy technology to create an efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective agricultural system.
For our roll-out, we have chosen as our stage a vast area of reclaimed land in Kasaoka Bay, Okayama Prefecture. One of the four largest areas of reclaimed land in Japan, this region’s virgin soil provides the perfect environment for an entirely new approach to farming. Both working closely with local communities and engaging in intensive research and development, as well as developing strategic relationships with a variety of companies, we aim to establish an agricultural model that will connect us to the future.
Our strength lies not only in the size of our company, but in the scope of our ambition. Our commitment is to grow into a future vegetable company not just in Japan, but in all of Asia, evolving the innovative cultivation technologies we now possess into something even more advanced and efficient. 

Over the past several years, we’ve been seeing a strong demand for our high-tech greenhouses from the Eastern European market. This has partly been driven by governments keen to promote local food production, whether or not through subsidies, but also by the growing demand for a high quality, year-round product. In recent years, Van der Hoeven has completed a range of projects in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, among others, and in partnership with local builders we’ve created some impressive projects. Furthermore, for several projects we provide an excellent aftersales service and advice on cultivation, resulting in fast-growing and profitable companies.

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The first ModulAIR lettuce greenhouse was completed In May 2017. Meanwhile the construction of phase 2 is already well on its way. An interview with Howard Kosaka, one of the initiators.

1.Can you tell us something about yourself? Education, profession?
I studied Agriculture, Commerce and Business Administration. BSc (Ag) at the University of British Columbia. I was sole owner and operator of a Tomato greenhouse facility for 17 years, followed by joint venture partnership(s).

2. Your connection to Van der Hoeven goes a long way back. How long and in which way were/are you connected to Van der Hoeven?
I started building with Van der Hoeven in 1989 and stayed with Van der Hoeven ever since. The first greenhouse was a 5 Ha. Beef Tomato greenhouse. In 1991 we built another 5 Ha. greenhouse, but this one was for Truss Tomato. Twelve years later, in 2003 we built a Truss Tomato greenhouse which was much bigger, 13 Ha and we expanded in 2005 with another 10 Ha. 

In 2016, I returned to Van der Hoeven for another greenhouse, but in a different role, as  a consultant. We started in 2016 with 2.5 Ha. Lettuce, and at this moment we are building another 2.5 Ha. Lettuce greenhouse.

3. The Lettuce greenhouses are situated in Alberta, Canada. What is the climate like and is the decision for the type of greenhouse purely based on the climate in Alberta?
The greenhouses constructed for Tomato production are all located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The greenhouses constructed for Lettuce production are both located in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. The decision to locate the Lettuce production in southern Alberta (49 deg. N latitude) was based on consumer and customer demand for a year-round Canadian grown product. But also the availability of land and water was important. The Alberta climate and then especially the high ambient light in winter and low RH with cool nights in summer played a part in the decision, as well as de-regulated electrical power generation, access to labor, distribution and logistics efficiency.

4. Which possible uncertainties / misgivings / doubts did you have before starting the highly technical greenhouse project for the production of specialty lettuce?
The stacking of several relatively new technologies that were previously not applied for Lettuce production in a different climatic zone is a daunting undertaking. There was little or no historical precedent to draw experience. Despite these uncertainties we still believed in the success of this Van der Hoeven Lettuce greenhouse. 

5. What do you think of the greenhouse, anything you would like to emphasize?
The genetic potential of Lettuce seed (or any other seed) can only be accomplished by using technological systems that eliminate plant stress that then promotes optimum balanced growth. The Van der Hoeven greenhouse has been designed and built to achieve these results. These initiatives will move our growing practices away from a traditional approach to a more data driven, plant sensor based approach overtime.

6. How did you experience the cooperation between your company and Van der Hoeven during the construction period and after?
The Van der Hoeven company and its principals have always been, and continue to be cooperative and supportive. The increasing amount of technology and innovation taking place in the Greenhouse industry today, together with the associated costs has emphasized the importance of these relations.

7. The second phase is now being built, a copy of the first phase which was delivered in June 2017. What was the main reason for this quick expansion?
The quick expansion of the Lettuce greenhouse was based on market opportunity and the ability to diversify Lettuce varieties and create a closer match: genotype to environment.

8. What do you think of the current developments in the horticultural industry? What’s your vision on the future of horticulture?
Technological innovations are enabling the Greenhouse industry to expand worldwide despite different geographic climatic conditions and this trend seems likely to continue. And necessarily, there will be a move away from human sensory growing toward a data driven approach as many scientific authors are predicting.


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